Combating Email List Fatigue

List Fatigue: A condition producing diminishing returns from a mailing list whose members are sent too many offers, or too many of the same offers, in too short a period of time. – MarketingSherpa Email Marketing Benchmark Report

This description likely sounds familiar to most email marketers. When you first send to recently opted-in subscribers, they are actively opening and clicking your emails. However, over time, the engagement levels begin to decrease (or take a severe nosedive in some cases). As MarketingSherpa’s definition notes, when your engagement results begin to drag, it could be due to:

1. Frequency– You are now sending more than they want to receive. Perhaps you have also increased your frequency over time, now delivering way more than they signed up for at the point of initial opt-in.

To prevent this, review the expectations you set up front with your subscribers. If you are exceeding the number of emails they were told they’d receive, it’s time to scale back.

2. Staleness– You are sending the same type of information or offers over and over again and your subscribers have stopped responding.

Take a look at your most recent campaigns, if they are largely similar in content and appearance, it is time for you to do a refresh. Revisit your strategy and come up with a whole new concept.

3. Bombarding– You’re not only sending a lot more communication, you are also paying no attention to how spaced out the touch points are. Sure, your executives have the idea for you to roll out 3 new products or service offerings; does this mean you should announce them all the same week thereby bombarding your subscribers? No.

Keep in mind that your subscribers will get desensitized if they see multiple emails from you within a short period of time.


While these are certainly 3 of the top reasons for a “sleepy” list, other reasons for list fatigue include:

1. Non-engaging subject lines– You’ve gotten into a good routine but unfortunately your subscribers don’t think so. If you are sending subject lines with the same structure as you were at the start of your email program, even if it brought you success then, it is time to do some A/B split testing.

You may be surprised which subject lines generate opens now. Things change and subscribers change therefore your subject lines should too. For more information on what to test, check out our free white paper on email testing methods, “How to Increase Performance and Revenue with Email Testing.”

2. Disuse of an email account- There is turnover in every aspect of business and your email database is no exception. Think about it: people are bound to change email accounts over time (e.g.- I switched from Yahoo! to Gmail when Gmail came on the scene). When this occurs, that initial email address no longer equals dollar signs. Rather, it now represents a blackhole on your email list. If you send your campaign to these inactive addresses, they aren’t reaching anyone.

The best way to combat this is to constantly monitor the level of engagement and target those that have not engaged in 6 months or so with a re-engagement campaign (forcing them to take action to stay on your list). For more information about re-engagement campaigns, check out our guest blog series compliments of DJ Waldow on how WhatCounts client True Citrus re-engaged subscribers.

3. Spam filters blocking your emails from going to the inbox- Your emails are being received but are in your subscribers’ spam folders rather than their inbox. Spam folder placement is often discrete and, as a result, messages in there are certainly less frequently checked so may be going unnoticed.

Algorithms designed to keep spammy messages out of the inbox are constantly evolving. Therefore, there is no definite way to stay away from that dreaded folder. However, most ESPs, like WhatCounts, have a spam analyzer tool that can help you diagnose whether your email content may cause your “perfectly crafted” email to land in the spam category. Check these types of reports before sending any message.

4. Disabled images within the email leading to poor email rendering- You have important messaging and calls-to-action embedded in images therefore, if a subscriber doesn’t download the images, they do not see the meat of your message. Since the default in most email clients is to have images turned OFF, it is highly important that you design with this fact in mind. In other words, make sure the important information is spelled out with text as well. If you’re not sure how your email may be appearing with images off, it may be wise to use a rendering tool.

If your list is not generating the results it used to or the results you’d like to see, take a close look at your program and determine what may be causing the issue. And, as always, if you’re a WhatCounts client, please contact your client service manager to discuss. Happy emailing!


Lindsay McFadden
Director, Campaign Production Services


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